One in five hospitals cancelled elective surgeries during last summer’s heatwave, as experts warned of future disruption due to climate change. A further third of hospitals would have had to cancel operations if the record-breaking temperatures continued because NHS buildings could not withstand extreme heat, a study from the University of Birmingham found.
Study co-author James Glasbey, of the University of Birmingham, said: “Even short heatwaves may result in widespread disruption to surgical services in the UK. The likelihood of extreme weather is growing. We could find ourselves in both a ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ stress situation within the next few years.”
The researchers surveyed surgeons, anaesthetists and critical care doctors working in the July 16-19 heatwave when record temperatures hit 104.5F.
Of 271 responses from 140 UK hospitals, almost one in five (18.5 percent) reported the heatwave resulted in elective surgery being cancelled.
A further third (35 percent) predicted cancellations would have been likely had the heatwave continued.
Staff shortages, unsafe theatre environments and bed shortages were all said to have contributed.
And surgical services were poorly prepared for extreme heat, with ambient temperature uncontrollable in 41 percent of operating theatres.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “A lack of capital investment in the NHS over the last 10 years means there is little resilience left to deal with situations like heatwaves.
“Heatwaves and extreme weather conditions can have a significant impact on NHS services, and having buildings that weren’t designed to cope with such pressures has a detrimental effect on patient care.”
He called for the Chancellor to increase NHS budgets.